CC TV: Cars of The Avengers – Mrs. Peel, We’re Needed

As we all know, last couple of years brought endless hours of forced ‘stay at home’ entertainment. During the height of such days, I got lucky (?) the cultish British 60’s show The Avengers got cleared for streaming in South America.

The show was aired a few good years before I came into being, so I had no relationship with it whatsoever. Still, images of The Avengers appeared occasionally in media and was curious about it for a long time; even after watching the dismal movie remake of the 90’s. Now, as some may know, a poor first impression won’t keep me from giving a second chance. I’m a forgiving fella, or a foolish one. You be the judge.

On this post, I’ll stick to The Avengers first color season (# 5, aired in 1967), and the one that resounds most with international audiences. By then the show had developed a cool sophisticated quirky style, with a penchant for witty surreal set ups that kept viewers tuned in. These very qualities make the series endearing to the show’s followers; while coming off as silly and off-putting to the rest of the world. This especially in today’s environment, where audiences seem to take entertainment way too seriously.

The Avengers come from a different time in entertainment, when audiences and creators had a different agreement: much like a magician’s show, audiences were in the ‘take,’ as nothing was to be taken at face value. Instead, entertainment was aimed to surprise viewers with whatever card tricks they could come up with. And boy, did The Avengers liked those card tricks! The random captures above encapsulate what The Avengers had become by the mid 60’s, and they’ll either pique your curiosity or leave you not-wanting.

Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel became an international star during her tenure as costar. Mrs. Peel was the embodiment of coolness and charm. Most direction Diana seems to have gotten for her role could be resumed in: Look cool on this scene! And she did that like nobody else. Occasionally they also told her to look adorable, which she did just as well. I fell smitten with her at first sight, and even my wife, casually viewing one episode, emitted in a soft voice as if gasping for air: “What a pretty woman…” Yes, indeed. Diana was the only woman to ever get Mr. Bond to marry, so, what else can be added?

Patrick MacNee as Mr. Steed was actually the original ‘Avenger’, appearing uninterruptedly since first broadcast in 1960. On episode one, Mr. Steed helped avenged the death of Dr. David Keel’s wife, and thus performing the only ‘avenging’ to ever occur in the show. Originally a hard gritty drama (most of that first season is lost), the show slowly morphed as the main star -Ian Hendry as Dr. Keel- left to pursue film stardom (didn’t pan out too well, I might add). Mr. Steed remained as the ‘main’, supported by a revolving door of assistants; the show switching in spirit as the psychedellic-infused-60’s progressed.

As for Mr. Steed, he was also the embodiment of coolness. Of a different very British sort. Leave it to the Brits, who created a whole entertainment industry around their own quirky an eccentric qualities. Dubious, suave and charming, Mr. Steed was the perfect British gentleman, and could turn to a menacing thug at the turn of a dime (Patrick MacNee probably took some of his own war experiences to bring these qualities to surface while performing).

While The Avengers isn’t an obvious car show, it’s certainly a chance to see a good amount of British metal in then-new condition. Me not having existed at the time, these still frames are the closest I’ll ever get to most of these vehicles. Ok, in some museum probably, though not quite the same; museums don’t take kindly to visitors shouting “Holy! It’s a Mini Moke!” Also, while in previous posts I have poked fun at UK cars and their notorious unreliability, the truth is I love how they look. Even plebeian ones exude charm. I do find it regretful the UK car industry never recovered from their terminal downward spin.

That’s Diana, looking cool and doing it exceedingly well. The lovely Lotus Elan performed duties as Mrs. Peel’s official ride. Considering the show’s date, 1967, this was probably an S2. Now, even the Elan’s hardest fans will tell you it’s hard to keep one running without developing some major trouble in short order. That penchant of Colin Chapman for lightness and cutting corners sure made for fragile mechanicals. The Avengers production team probably had a few mechanics hanging around to keep all that flimsy British metal in running order.

Regardless of Mr. Chapman’s dubious legacy, by all accounts these cars were not just lovely to look at but a blast to drive. There’s a purity to the car’s intentions, and these were eventually rediscovered—in much more reliable manner—in Mazda’s early Miata.

Meanwhile, Mr. Steed apparently had a lot of classic and brass era cars at his disposal. On season 5 he rode mostly Bentleys, and Patrick MacNee can actually be seen at the wheel on a few shots. As far as I can tell two Bentleys rotated for service during season 5, a 1928 3 liter being the light one. Then, a ponderous 6.5 liter from 1930, which probably took quite a bit of work to master. This being Curbside Classic, not many classic nor brass era vehicles have made it into posts (how many can be found on the streets, much less by the curbside?). The models that appeared on The Avengers have been covered by the Bentley faithful in minutiae over the web. More on each can be found HERE.

The Avengers episodes generally focused on eccentric aristocrats, either as villains or victims. That being the case, Rolls Royces made numerous appearances. The posh wouldn’t ride a Morris, would they? This Silver Cloud III appeared in a couple episodes gliding smoothly over the roads, always being chauffeured.

Not surprisingly, these Rolls Royces had quite lush accommodations; a great place to bring Mrs. Peel for some tea. Tea? Accruements had a different meaning before apps came into being.

Another Rolls Royce, this time a Silver Wraith Hearse. Or so I gathered, hard to tell, as it zips by rather quickly. Lots of style to take that last ride in. That’s one coffin announcing to the world someone of relevance had passed away. Good villain vehicle too; I would rather use it for criminal means than for its original intended use. Talk about a vehicle that announces nefarious upscale intentions!

Talking about Rolls Royces, even the hearse’s curtains looked expensive in those brief shots. These cars were built at a time when quality meant not reliability as we understand it, but that of materials used. The vehicle’s mechanics could fail from time to time, but each part on that body and engine was a piece of art. Real long lasting metal, real long lasting wood. I appreciate the advancements in modern reliability, but modern plastic interior bits make for poor looking paperweights. Ever tried to display a used Kia A/C plastic vent on your office desk? Nope? Didn’t think so.

My favorite Brit vehicles are actually the mundane ones. Here we arrive to the Humber Super Snipe, and nope, that’s not a quirky villain name (“Mrs. Peel, watch out for that Super Snipe!”) Tom Klockau covered this Humber in detail a while back, a model with upper middle class pretenses and quite a bit of poise on its lines.

The car’s lines looked pretty up to date when new back in 1958, even if not groundbreaking. In general, the car’s lines mixed fairly well then-current styling with British essence.

An assortment of Austin’s Minis made it into the show as well. How could they not? Predating Woody Allen by a few years, one Mini even attempts to take down our dear Mrs. Peel. A pretty cool sequence. That said, by modern standards these action sequences are rather basic, when not all action heroes were martial experts (Mrs. Peel was actually a pioneer on this regard, using some basic judo). Brawling punches and throws were the norm. Also, body doubles are painfully obvious in modern hi-def monitors, something no yesteryear Philco would have revealed.

Here’s a very Brit sounding model, the Austin Cambridge. About that name, I fully agree; the car exudes a charming British dowdiness, even if the lines are an evolution of Pininfarina’s work. Still, Farina knew how to make cars fit client’s personalities, and the Cambridge looks very Brit indeed.

On this episode the little Cambridge has the audacity to run over none other than Hammer movie stalwart Christopher Lee (Spoiler alert: the little Austin is no match for Dracula).

A quirky show deserves quirky vehicles, and what’s quirkier than a bunch of Austin Mini Mokes in formation? This car honestly strikes me as BMC having Citroen envy. Of course, that wasn’t the case; the Mini Moke was a rejected military proposal put together by Issigonis himself, which BMC managed to sell to some hardy adventure seeking costumers. No idea went to waste in those days. Looks like a golf cart too. Did they consider the emerging mini golf market?

This being the 60’s, those stalwarts of UK motoring make brief appearances as well: the Triumph and the MGB. According to Imdb, this is aTR4, although its appearance is so brief that I wouldn’t bet on it.

The MGB meanwhile has a lovely panning shot over the English countryside that looks like a vinyl cover: “Ferrante & Teicher play Gloucestershire Dreaming!” Those 60’s British cars really made some great car-porn shots!

Here’s a contentious entry, a Ford GT40 Mk1. Even Emma seems impressed with the car’s lines, how could she not? How the car made it into the show seems lost in time, and being a GT40, online forums have conflicting claims as to which model is The Avengers one.

The prevalent view is it was chassis 1008, a model that made rounds in car motor shows. I tend to stick to this version, as this GT40 had some props added to fulfill its role as Villain of Week Vehicle with its laser ray contraption. Adding those props took time, and I doubt Ken Miles would have been willing to put up with that nonsense between speed trials and qualifications.

I’ve often wondered if working on the GT40 Le Mans program is what pushed Detroit engineers to take the ‘lower and wider’ mantra to the extreme. Within a few years, F-Body customers would be subjected to the joys of racecar-driver-seating-position: “If a racecar driver is comfortable at 40 inches height… why can’t Lara of Wyoming be too?” No wonder SUVs took over with a vengeance.

As the show progressed, I noticed that villains and their accomplices had a preference for foreign metal. Here, a baddie drives a DAF 44 in the countryside, putting to use its unusual and groundbreaking variomatic technology. The 44 was a Michelotti design, adding some flair to DAF’s usually drab styling.

Also, a Citroen Id 19, which needless to say means some baddie is at the wheel; even if it isn’t necessarily Alan Deloin.

On season 5, The Avengers episodes finished on a short epilogue with Mr. Steed taking Emma for a ride in one of his brass era wonders. Lots of these sequences revolved around Mr. Steed attempting to start the cars, not always with success (Was this entirely scripted? Or some improv was at play depending on the car’s disposition?) On the shots, in no particular order, the legendary “Silver Ghost” in all its glistening glory. Originally named 40/50, the car acquired its moniker baptized so by the press, who found it as quiet as a ‘ghost.’ Its remarkable quality and finish earned Rolls Royce the fame upon which the company’s legend was built.

Another epilogue included a yellow Vauxhall 7/9hp, a 3 cylinder wonder and one of a handful of survivors from the brand’s early days. Then, a purple Unic Taxi, a popular model with cab drivers in the UK during the early 2oth century. Of French origin, the brand had a good presence with commercial vehicles. Cab drivers probably appreciated the mix of traditional carriage lines with modern automotive styling.

Here’s another couple of very 60’s British car, first the Landcrab. Now, The Avengers may be cool, but there’s no way to make the poor Landcrab look cool. Not even by association.

And last, a Jaguar, a brand which for some reason didn’t appear as often as one would think. Did the producers had a strained relationship with Sir William Lyons? That said, the Jaguar has a good sequence running against Emma’s Elan and placing her through quite a bit of peril.

Regrettably there’ll be no Youtube clips shared on this post. Avengers clips are awfully absent online, except for some dedicated to Mrs. Peel’s charms. The show, airing before VHS taping came to be, was not part of Gen X’s cultural baggage. Much less Millennials. Notice how crappy movies of the 80’s and 90’s still cling to life, while decent 70’s ones are rarely mentioned? I thank -and blame- VHS for that. Who knows, maybe streaming will bring back some life to The Avengers?

This has been a general recap of most vehicle appearances on Season 5. Some are missing; various Land Rovers, a Bedford ambulance, etc. There’s another color season with Emma, referred to as either 5.5 or 6. It actually has a car-oriented episode: “Dead Man’s Treasure” with Mr. Steed and Emma joining a car race against some unsavory characters. Sounds like a future CC entry. Meanchile, seeing all these still frames reminds me I should rewatch some of these episodes!